Tourist summer season begins: You know the drill

So, it is that time of year again, when the tourist hordes escaping the northern hemisphere winter come to our shores again.

Whilst the weather might not be fully aboard in the same way it was last year – hot, fine weather throughout the traditional summer months until February (more on that later) – the tourist summer season has begun.

Not all tourists will be familiar with what New Zealanders expect of them on the roads, in public or private establishments. Obviously not all from non-English speaking nations are going to be able to speak fluent English and some will only have a rudimentary knowledge.

Be patient. The fact that they have made an effort to come this far is commendable in its own right. If they are at a site of significance and appear not to be obeying any ground rules, politely point it out to them; if they are going too slowly or driving dangerously, contact the Police bad driving number and tell them what is going on. Taking matters into ones own hands just risks aggravating the situation.

Be polite. A tourist is a visitor to our nation. They will no doubt be asked by family and friends when they get back to their country of origin how it was and what the locals were like. And those stories will get around if the audiences judge the answers to be memorable. If they say “New Zealanders are nice people, friendly and helpful”, it will help bring more tourists to our shores for the right reasons.

Be helpful. I know it is simple, but it is pretty fundamental. Tourists, love them or loathe them, remember how we treat them, just as we remember how they treat us.

The weather may or may not co-operate. If it is anything like it was earlier this year, it could be very hit and miss. We went from having a stunning hot December and January to having two tropical cyclones – Fehi and Gita – go past in three weeks. It causes enough trouble if you are a local, but for a tourist it might help determine for better or for worse how New Zealand is remembered. They will not necessarily know about the impending bad weather when going somewhere – make sure tourists know in case they are going into the back country as you just might save the taxpayer a few thousands dollars preventing an avoidable rescue off a mountain.

And remember if there are heaps of tourists coming to your favourite spot and you cannot get in, they are just coming for a holiday and because we have afforded them the opportunity by developing economic relations with their country. The vast majority of them will be just fine and will probably co-operate if you are reasonable with them. Just remember we visit some places in large numbers as well and contribute to equivalent issues such as rubbish, bad driving and so forth.

As for the infrastructure issues that we have, that is why the local government elections every three years are important. So are the opportunities to make submissions on council plans and submit evidence in person before a hearing, and if you are really determined to make something happen, stand for them when the opportunity arises.

So, to cut a long story short, be friendly and helpful to the tourists coming here. Depending on the circumstances in which you meet them, it might save you as much grief as it saves them.

Lessons from Europe and Singapore: Tourism – Part 3

Continued from Part 2.

Singapore, on the other hand is a study of quite a different nature to the European countries. As a modern city state occupying a land mass of 723km² it is limited in what it can have in terms of industries.

Thus Singapore has under Lee Kew Yuan and his successors become a substantial tourist based economy.

As a tourist power, Singapore does very well. It has a number of factors at play that make visiting it an attractive proposition to tourists.

It’s warm tropical climate with temperatures consistently 23-32 the whole time I was there is kept in check by convective storms that develop over inland areas or the Malaysian peninsula and typically peak between 1400-1900 each day. The reliable rain enables a lush green canopy of tropical vegetation. It also enables a range of tropical bird and reptile life to thrive including monitor lizards. This has been recognized by the local wildlife parks.

Singapore has a range of tourist attractions. Fort Canning and the Battlebox, where British General Archibald Percival conducted the biggest capitulation in British military history is one. Whilst Fort Canning is open, the Battlebox is a guided tour whose reservations fill up most days. Marina Bays has the popular floating roof top bar that sits on three separate buildings

If one likes cuisine, Singapore has a full range of culinary delights including a Michelin 1-Star Hawker Chan restaurant. Along the Singapore River there are a number of restaurants with open air decks looking across the river, which serve a range of dishes. I was not there long enough to get a really good look at all of what was on offer.

One of the things that makes Singapore so popular with tourists is the perception of being very safe. This is largely true in terms of crime as Singapore’s non tolerance of drugs, murder and other serious crime mean the death penalty is applicable. Singapore in 2016 had a murder rate of just 0.32 people per 100,000. And in terms of ones own perception of safety, granted I did not venture out at night whilst there.

As for cleanliness, Singapore has low tolerance of dumping of rubbish. I saw no dumping of goods anywhere. The city has universal water supply and a combination of policy, education and legal framework helps oversee this. Given its love of telecommunications, Singapore could in the future develop e-waste recycling as another industry since per thousand people it has one of the highest connection rates in the world. It has the know how, the education system and legal framework potentially there, and it would further enhance its environmentally responsible reputation on which its ability to be a tourist power sits.

I have in the past promoted biofuel as a fuel source whilst writing about New Zealand. I have done that on the understanding that economics might not permit such activity here on a large scale as it would in a densely populated area like Singapore. However one way of helping Singapore maintain an environmentally responsible reputation, in a two fold manner, thereby helping protect the attractive tropical environment that lures so many people to the city state, would be collecting the waste cooking oil as the basis of a biofuel blend. With only quite limited room for refuse facilities, it would make sense to examine what can be taken out of the waste stream.

Singapore has a bright future. I enjoyed my time there and will be going back at some point. Other countries with small landmasses and dense populations can look at how Singapore achieved what it has and perhaps try to replicate it.

Except maybe the death penalty. I don’t endorse that.

Lessons from Europe and Singapore: Tourism – Part 2

Continued from Part 1.

Generally the old town quarters of Ghent, Brugge and Ypres was cleaner than you would expect to find cities in New Zealand. I do not know what litter ordinances any of these places had in place, but little evidence of litter was found around them. This is important for all three, as tourism is a significant part of their economy.

Belgium towns have a lot of bars and cafes with a different culture to New Zealand. Namely if anyone drinks alcohol – and I did see a lot of people doing so – they would generally order something to eat as well. It could be something simple such as fries or a proper meal. All of them are bike friendly, and one could hire scooters for several hours or a day. Canal tours of various descriptions existed and seem to be well patronized.

The Hop on/Hop off bus is a well developed concept in all of the big cities – London, Stockholm, Goteburg, Brussels, Amsterdam and Singapore all have their own versions. The number of routes varied from one location to the next – Brussels had two lines – the No. 1 and No. 2 lines; Singapore has the Red, Brown, Yellow and Blue lines. All operated a pass system where one purchased a pass that would give them access to the network for 2-3 days or 5 days. It was an easy way to get around the city. The European cities also have a “_______” (enter name of city) City Pass that gives you access to the major attractions. Like the Hop on/Hop off passes they were set to last 2-3 days or 5 days.

I do not know if such passes exist in New Zealand, but it would be an easy way to ensure tourists used the public transport networks if it was too difficult for them to hire a rental car. In Auckland for example an “Auckland City Pass”, might include the Sky Tower, Auckland Museum, Auckland Zoo, Kelly Tarlton Sea Life Aquarium and so forth. The Hop on/Hop off route would have no trouble covering all of those in a reasonably quick time.

One thing that was notable in European cities was their charge for using the toilet. Many public places charged and I assume it was just their way of funding the up keep. Given – even if it was not necessarily said so – that it was polite to purchase something in the bars, cafes and restaurants that one would find themselves ducking into to relieve themselves, it did result in some otherwise unintended beverage and food purchases. On the other hand the bars, restaurants and cafes that I/we ducked into were not so fussy but we repaid them by having a round, a small bite or something whilst on the premises.

Given in some districts there is a small rate payer base, but high tourist numbers, such as the Mackenzie District in the South Island, a 0.50c fee for using the toilets would not be out of place. It would enable the charging council to keep a tighter rein on council rates as user pays would be a fairer model than simply making the whole district pay. With the summer tourist season coming up and local government elections due again next year, it will be interesting to see whether councils think about such approaches or elect to make the rate payers cough up more money.

Lessons from Europe and Singapore: Tourism – Part 1

When one is on holiday, it is a chance to note how the locals live and what one can learn from the experience. As a tourist through the United Kingdom, Belgium, Sweden and the Netherlands, I kept a photographic record of what I saw. This part focuses on tourism in Europe.

Starting off in the United Kingdom I visited central London over the course of several days. It is a nice city with much history. The congestion in the central city, despite the efforts of the local councils to reduce it is still as present as ever. I found that there were parts that were really clean and lovely and parts that were not so great. The grounds of the attractions were clean and well maintained, but the number of people just casually stubbing out cigarettes on the ground and leaving them there at railway stations like London Paddington was disappointing, as was the sight of full up rubbish bins that obviously needed urgent emptying.

The old town quarters in Stockholm and Goteburg were cleaner. That might have more to do with the banning of non emergency and service vehicles from them. As cars did not exist when the streets were first laid down, it is also too narrow for them to safely manoeuvre. But the great aspect of this was, as a tourist on foot, you did not need to worry about being run over, and it also enabled street artists to perform their crafts and let audiences gather to watch.

These centres also had nice pedestrian friendly squares where much activity was taking place. Again, no cars unless they are service or emergency vehicles. These public areas were being used for concerts and other public events, as well as food, craft stalls and buskers. I saw good examples of this in Amsterdam, Stockholm and Brussels.

Public square in Stockholm, Sweden, with the creamy coloured building housing the Nobel Prize Museum (R. GLENNIE)

Small towns such as Ypres had their own centres of public attention. Each night at Ypres, which spent most of World War 1 within both German and Allied artillery range, there is a short ceremony to acknowledge the huge loss of lives in the five battles that took place around it. The ceremony happens daily at 2000 hours at Menin Gate, which is this huge arch over one of the vehicle entry points into the old town. Roughly 800-1000 people turn up each night. Each panel in the walls of the arch from top to bottom are filled with the names of dead Australians, British, Canadian and other allied nationalities who fought in the battles.

The daily remembrance ceremony at Menin Gate, Ypres, Belgium. (R. GLENNIE)

Others, such as Brugge did not so much have a focal point, as a wide range of craft stores. Brugge is renown for its chocolate, waffles and craft beers – all specialties of Belgium. Bars, restaurants and cafes as well museums with rich local histories all help make the flavour of the town. To cap it off, a functional wind mill and historic watch towers also exist in the town limits.

Queenstown faces economic crunch

Queenstown: urban population 13,500.

When one thinks of Queenstown they think of a year round tourist play ground that thrives in both summer and winter. A play ground with a stunning scenic with lakes, mountains, fast rivers and a rich history of gold mining and more recently tourism. People fly in direct from all over New Zealand and from Sydney in Australia to take advantage of the Lakes District’s many offerings.

But is the same stunning landscape that makes it a magnet in the first place a potential choke? Sadly the answer is yes.

The geography of Queenstown, whilst ensuring its popularity as a scenic spot/holiday town, is also a potential choker on growth. Constrained by Lake Wakatipu on one side and high mountains on the other, Queenstown can only spread along the lake shore and into adjacent valleys.

Vineyards, orchards, gold mining relics are all nearby. There are multiple festivals such as the WInter Festival as well as the bi-annual Warbirds over Wanaka airshow and many others. But if Queenstown is subject to rampant growth for the sake of growth, a whole set of factors are likely to combine to make it no such a great place after all. Let us have a look at them.

Rents are high. For years it has been a place that has been barely affordable for locals, who no longer recognize it as the sleepy place it was 30 years ago. The demand for services, with new buildings springing up all the time, combined with its year round attraction means a continually booming tourist town, but with an under current of socio-economic problems that are not pleasant.

There is exploitation. Non New Zealanders have moved into the town, which is fine – the problem is not whether people come or not, but whether they are willing to comply with New Zealand labour laws. People moving in to make a quick dollar are not necessarily going care about the fact that there is a minimum wage applicable to all workers in New Zealand; 40 hour working week and holiday provisions for those who have to work statutory holidays.

There is a land issue. Queenstown cannot continue spreading endlessly outwards, or it will risk undercutting the businesses on the towns periphery that help to make it and the surrounding area so special. Going vertically up also has its problems. The taller the building, the correspondingly deeper the foundations will need to be and on land that is already at a premium, that might just be some sort of impenetrable ceiling. The geology of the land, relatively close to large faults means shaking intensities are likely to be fairly high in a large earthquake, which will make lateral spreading, landsliding and liquefaction likely.

And then there is the transport issue. The exponential growth of Queenstown and the accelerating growth of Wanaka has put major pressure on the roading network throughout the area. The airport has a plan to increase tourist numbers from 2 million currently arriving per annum to possibly 5 million. These are the only two transport modes in and out of the town. No railways exist – where would you put one even if it was viable? – and catering for 30,000 vehicle movements on peak days – that is about 20 a minute, every minute, all amount to a distinctively unattractive problem.

By all means come to Queenstown. Stay a couple nights. Travel on the T.S.S. Earnslaw up to the end of the lake. Visit the nearby gold mining sites. But don’t be surprised if this place is close to hitting its limits.